It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
OPTIONAL IWSG MAY QUESTION: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?
MY ANSWER: Homemade bombs. A few years back, I wrote a short story, an urban fantasy, about a young witch finding and defusing a bomb at a shopping fair. She had to do it by magical means, of course, but I needed to know what goes inside a bomb to be able to apply her magic. I have to tell you: the internet is a treasure trove of information on the weirdest of subjects, especially wikipedia, although I worried for a time after I did that research that some government agency or another would be interested in me. To my relief, nobody was. The story is part of my collection Squirrel of Magic.
My research for my stories doesn’t exclusively involve combing the internet for information. Often, it is a hunt for a cover image, and occasionally, it leads to unexpected results. Lately, I have been thinking about a short fantasy story, set in my favorite quasi-medieval world, with a teenage boy protagonist.
I don’t have many of those: most of my protagonists are young women. The story is almost ready in my head, I just have to write it down. As usual at this point, I wanted to find an image of my protagonist and I started looking where I always look for my medieval characters: classical art of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
That’s a very wide field of search, and I’ve always been able to select my heroines there. You could find hundreds of girls or young women of any class and skin color – from a red-headed country maid, to a blonde aristocratic lady, to a sensuous gypsy dancer, to a mythological amazon – among classical paintings floating on cyber waves. But this time, I encountered a blank wall. To my surprise, there are almost no adolescent boys in those paintings.
There are boy children and then, there are men. But it seems the artists of old had an aversion to painting teenage boys. Of course, there are portraits of princes and dukes of any age, but even counting them, there is maybe one depiction of a fifteen year old boy per a hundred adult males. And the girls heavily outnumber them both.
The only exception is David, the one who won against Goliath. Almost every classical painter painted David at least once, and all of them painted him as a teenage boy, often half-naked, with Goliath’s severed head in a triumphant grip. Some of those boys are actually very nice paintings, and I could, maybe, use one or two for my hero, but what would I do with the huge dead head? It is not in my story.
I tried playing with the images, making the head appear as a sack or a rock, depending on its location. Once, I put a column from another painting in front of David to hide Goliath’s head. The results were not too bad, but not exactly what I wanted.
When Davids didn’t work for me, I started looking elsewhere, specifically at free fantasy wallpapers. I wanted to find a young archer dressed in a ‘sort-of’ medieval garb. I did what everyone does in such situations: I Googled “boy archer fantasy wallpaper.” I thought I would have hundreds of hits, but… surprise! The majority of fantasy archer images used for wallpapers – could you believe it? – are girls, too. Hordes of them, with bows and swords, mostly dressed in bikinis.
I’m not touching the overabundance of bikini-clad female warriors in this post, but where are the boys?
UNRELATED NEWS: yesterday, May 2, was the official release day of the IWSG short story anthology Hero Lost. I’m one of the authors fortunate to be included in the anthology. We all do our best to promote the book, and one of my contributions is a guest post I wrote yesterday for Stephanie Faris’s blog. You can read my post, Open-ended stories, here.